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Will an Expensive Test Help My Pet?

My puppy is a 7-month-old Jack Russell. She recently had to have her spleen taken out, and she has a rare liver condition, which causes...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Sep 5th 2011


My puppy is a 7-month-old Jack Russell. She recently had to have her spleen taken out, and she has a rare liver condition, which causes her to have a big blood vessel coming out of her liver, going around the liver, and going in again.

A local vet recommended taking her another city, to a specialist for a liver scan. It may or may not help her, and it will cost at least $1,000. Should we take her?

Louise
Gisborne, New Zealand

Obviously, if the test will help your dog then you should run it! But this leads us into a quagmire of reasoning. There is no way to know in advance whether the test or specialist intervention will be helpful. The usefulness of many tests is known only after they are run.

In general, I recommend running noninvasive tests such as ultrasounds or scintigraphy (I’m guessing one of these two has been recommended in your dog’s case) in most instances. They are unlikely to cause harm, and useful information may — I said may — be obtained. But I am not the one who has to pay for the test.

Ultimately, only you can decide whether to pursue the intervention of a specialist. If you have unlimited resources, the decision is easy. However, if you are like most people and you have to think about expenses, I recommend a heart-to-heart talk with your vet. Some good questions to ask: What are the odds of the test leading to a diagnosis? What are the odds that the condition will be treatable if it is diagnosed? What are the odds that the condition will not require treatment regardless of the diagnosis? How much would treatment cost — is it even an option for you? And finally, you should feel free to ask every vet’s favorite question: What would you do if you were in my place?

Some of these questions may be impossible to answer without having the results of the liver scan. But I can tell you one thing. Few vets are independently wealthy. We generally earn much less than “real” doctors. We generally understand the value of money, and the importance of not wasting it based upon our own lives. If you are honest with your vet about your concerns, I’ll bet your vet will be honest with you.